Welcome to Utopia: Reflections on Realities and Possibilities

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Betty Reardon
Founder, International Institute on Peace Education

(Welcome letter: Issue #67 September-October 2009)  

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Reflecting on the comments that followed the passing of the resolution on nuclear weapons proposed to the Security Council by the US in a session presided over by President Obama, I thought back to the origins of some of the core concepts that have informed my work in peace education throughout most of my career. One of the most misunderstood, even maligned of those concepts (among a number of peace thinking concepts that still elude the public, and continue to be ignored by policy makers) is Utopia. I use bold type for a bold concept, boldness being a quality much needed and in short supply in contemporary politics.
 
Utopian is the epithet often invoked to reject proposals for change toward peace as impossible, even worse as naïve, suggesting some lack of intelligence and knowledge of the real world on the part of the proposers. Such denigrations ignore the origins of the term in Thomas Moore’s denunciation of the realities of the sixteenth century world in his classic work, Utopia. Centuries before global civil society began to convene their periodic World Social Forum, Moore asserted that “another world is possible,” and he gave us a term for the concept of the best social order we can imagine, or conceive. Utopia is a pregnant idea, formed in the mind as a possibility toward which we might strive and in the striving learn how to realize concept, to make it real. Without conception, new life, in human society as in human beings, cannot be become reality. Utopia is a concept, the germinal idea from which new life in a new social order can germinate into a viable political goal, born into a process of politics and learning that could mature into a transformed social order; perhaps what we have come to call a culture a peace, a new world reality. Absent the germinal concept, there is little chance for a better world to evolve from a possibility to a reality.
 
General and Complete Disarmament is just such a concept. While human society has not shied away from laboring to bring forth to reality the possibilities of the abolition of slavery, the effective eradication of various endemic diseases, airborne transportation, landing on the moon, the election of an African-American to the Presidency of the United States, who summed up his campaign message with “Yes, we can,” it has continued to shy away from the one practical concept that could germinate into the sustainable peace the has been acknowledged as a universal human desire. Society has not learned to see the “real world” as a whole system, to understand the interrelationships among most of all the world’s problems, conditions which lead peace educators to advocate holistic and comprehensive perspectives. When such a perspective is brought to the analysis of issues of peace, disarmament and demilitarization, we see that if the systemic nature of these problems is to be understood so as to be effectively addressed, General and Complete Disarmament is probably the most practical comprehensive framework. As is well demonstrated by theFinal Document of the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament (1978), all relevant issues and proposals must be dealt with in the process of transforming the global political order from a war system to a peace system. A peace system, of necessity, would be upheld by institutions and process designed not as is the present system to preserve the existing order, but rather to nurture a new order, capable of systemic self correction in instances where it might deviate from the purpose of achieving and maintaining the practical conditions of human security, conditions realizable only within a sustainable world peace, what Elise Boulding referred to as a “world without weapons.”  Some possibilities for such practical conditions are outlined in works with which we are already familiar, among them The Hague Agenda for Peace and Security for the 21st Century (1999) and the Clark-Sohn proposals for a greatly strengthened United Nations contained in World Peace through World Law (1966).
 
As a peace educator, I greet this new Security Council resolution, which I take to be a step toward the abolition of nuclear weapons, as an opportunity to explore the conditions under which abolition of nuclear weapons might be achieved and maintained. Beyond that possibility, it can become a potential contribution to the abolition of war and to the necessary precondition of abolition, General and Complete Disarmament which implies all the requisite institutions to maintain peace, essentially a system change.  I hope that my colleagues in the field will also welcome it as a possibility to exploit the full heuristic possibilities of Utopia. The next time an interlocutor tries to set you straight, letting you know how utopian are your notions or proposals for peace, just say, “Thanks as lot. I really look forward to welcoming you to Utopia.”
 
Betty Reardon
October 1, 2009
 
Resources for Further Study and Inquiry

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